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Lords of the Rink: Return of the Referendum

The latest effort to build new recreation facilities on the Sunshine Coast got off to a rocky start last Thursday.

The latest effort to build new recreation facilities on the Sunshine Coast got off to a rocky start last Thursday.

Despite the rhetoric of Coast-wide cooperation, the evident animosity and distrust among the elected representatives at the Sunshine Coast Regional District board table left me doubting whether this initiative will ever make it to referendum.

The basic plan is not a new one. People have been talking for years about the need for a pool in Sechelt and an ice rink in Gibsons. But even calling that proposed facility an "ice rink" is enough to raise hackles in Gibsons, where the preferred title for the building is "community centre." It's a community centre whose largest and most expensive feature happens to be an ice rink, preferably an Olympic-sized and Olympic-funded ice rink, but it is not just an ice rink. Got that?

The Gibsons mayor even had trouble deciding whether he supports the idea of Coast-wide recreation funding "in principle," or whether perhaps he should be offering only "contingent support" or "conceptual support." As if that's not Orwellian enough for you, just wait until the SCRD board gets started on debating the definitions of "regional equity" and "level playing fields." All tax rates will be equal, but some may be more equal than others.

Ultimately, the SCRD directors voted unanimously to take the first step in a six-step process toward a Coast-wide recreation referendum (well, strictly speaking, that should be Coast-wide-except-for-Pender referendum).

But Celia Fisher, the regional director for Elphinstone, questioned whether it was wise to include Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay in the referendum, since "no" votes in those areas defeated the most recent referendums. She openly mused about the prospect of a better result if only the "lower end" of the Coast were included.

Clearly there is much bitterness remaining over the defeats in past recreation referendums. Turf-protection, tax grabbing and north vs south divisions are all live issues in the recreation debate. With this much hesitancy around the table at Step One, I don't see much likelihood that the politicians will be able to agree on the tough stuff: choosing locations for the new facilities, finalizing capital plans for the aging Sechelt arena and Gibsons pool and deciding what is a fair way to raise taxes.

If the political divisions at the SCRD prevent the Coast-wide recreation plan from going to referendum, that will be a real loss. There is long-standing and substantial support for these facilities among the citizens of the Sunshine Coast. The decision on whether to go ahead should be made at a public referendum. But it will be all too easy for a single disgruntled politician to veto the whole process before it ever gets to the referendum stage.

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